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Inside The Factory
Where the hell are our clothes made
I normally resist trying to do timely stuff. Sometimes I get asked if I want to drop some episode for Women’s Month or Arbor Day or Summer. The answer is always no. I’m usually very like “what is time, man.”
However, this is in fact a timely piece- in honor of an anniversary. Ten years ago this week, there was a tremendous catastrophe in the fashion world. The Rana Plaza collapse.
Over a thousand people, mostly women, died when this complex of factories crumbled. And the worst part is, the workers could see it coming. It was obvious that the building was in bad shape. That morning a decade ago, the workers did not want to go inside. And yet, management forced them in and a few hours later, most of them died.
This was a new low for the notoriously precarious garment industry. And in the wake of this tragedy, news outlets tended to parrot the same point: that brands needed to keep a closer eye on their manufacturers and inspect their factories more rigorously.
But here’s the strange truth. Rana Plaza had been investigated. And not only had it been investigated, it had been investigated by a professional firm who only does this. There is an estimated $85 billion dollar industry in inspecting factories. An industry hidden within the garment industry.
And one of these auditing companies, a German auditor named T.U.V. Rhineland, had inspected Rana Plaza less than a year before it collapsed. And they reported that the building was of good quality.
What the hell.
This company had one job. It just had to check in on the factory and report back. And they… didn’t do it. Were they idiots? Were they corrupt? Were they actually visually impaired? The answer lies in this bizarro industry-within-an-industry. Come with me into the world of factory audits. It’s weird in there.
If you’d like to know more about factory audits:
This article from Human Rights Watch explains why social audits cannot fix labor rights abuses.
Another organization, Transparentem, wrote a report specifically about audit deception and how rampant it is
Clean Clothes Campaign is gathering signatures for a petition calling on Levi's, IKEA, Amazon and others to sign the International Accord. Consider signing it.
To learn more about Rana Plaza, the background and aftermath visit Rana Plaza Never Again.
The Guardian broke the news of the former workers of the VK Garments Factory, who are taking UK company Tesco, and auditor Intertek, to court for negligence. Their lawyer’s website has updates on the case.
Super massive thanks to Emma Vogt at the Clean Clothes Campaign for putting me onto this and telling me about all these resources. I learned a lot.
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Thank you to listener Thomas Sojka for sending me these archival photos from the Ponsonby family papers. It’s a bunch of Brits dressing Ivy at an “American Party”!
It really shows you how timeless Ivy Style is, right? It’s so chic, even when it’s a costume.
None of you losers bought that cool jacket I told you to get last time! Joke’s on you- my hot sister got it! See? I told you it was a good jacket!
If I may be earnest for a minute- I’m sad about the loss of Twitter. I think. Is it sadness, or is it withdrawal? I don’t know. While I never particularly prided myself on my addiction, I suppose I enjoyed twitter as much as a smoker enjoys smoking. And now it’s quite strange to not engage with it, especially since it was my only social media.
That said, I just wanted to thank those of you who have emailed in, or found other ways to respond to this work. It means a lot! And I learn so much from you. It’s also nice to hear from you.
So thanks for listening. See you again in two weeks. 😅